10 New Trends in Chinese Christianity After Pandemic

Candles on the table in Chongwenmen Church
Candles on the table in Chongwenmen Church
By Ruth WangJanuary 8th, 2024

The year of 2023 was the first year where economic activities began to fully recover in China after the three-year pandemic, and the church also resumed its events involving in-person gatherings and ministries.

Through observation and analysis in 2023, Christianity in China became the same as it was before the pandemic, but many differences also emerged, resulting in far-reaching changes. 

The pandemic had a universal impact on the global church: declining memberships. Most churches in China were facing a similar situation, and the loss rate varied from 10% to 30% in different regions. The main reasons were as follows: due to a long time's church closure, believers’ faith became weak and many left the church. As most churches provided online services, believers were already accustomed to the convenience of online gatherings from which they could freely choose their favorite pastors, so some of them had been reluctant to return to in-person meetings since. However, some other pastors said that their churches had done a good job of small groups and discipleship training, and followers did not decrease but increased.

After the pandemic, one of the most obvious environmental changes was the economic downturn, which greatly impacted many churches that mainly relied on tithes and offerings. Due to decreasing churches and the economic downturn, the contribution of churches in many first- and second-tier cities shrank seriously, and even the income of some churches fell into negative growth as the income could not make ends meet. Therefore, both missionaries and churches were facing two difficulties: money and survival. As a result, many small churches had to close down.

Pastors faced obvious economic pressure. A millennial pastor who works in a first-tier city revealed that although he had a salary of 10,000 yuan per month, the house rent was more than 5,000 yuan. In addition, he pays more than 2,000 yuan in social security. Fortunately, his wife is also working to barely support the family, while his church did not offer enough incentives and care provided. Many mid-aged pastors had significantly increased economic anxiety.

The new situation has obviously prompted many churches to make great adjustments either actively or passively, which has made great and far-reaching changes in many aspects such as development, pastoral ministry, and evangelization. To some extent, it can be said that many Chinese churches have evolved into a new development model after the pandemic.

The ten new trends and explorations of churches in China are as follows, complied by the Christian Times.

1. Walking out of the myth of "megachurch"

In recent decades, many well-known churches in the world are megachurches that adopted the session system, leading many Chinese churches to be deeply inclined to this model from 2010 to 2015, especially those attached to the “megachurch myth.”

A pastor in the Yangtze Delta region said, "Over the past 20 years, many pastors and I have been influenced by the megachurch model prevalent in Europe, the United States, and South Korea... There is no doubt that megachurches have many advantages such as large capacity, various talents and reources, professionalism and impact in ministries. Many pastors of churches in China have supported this myth and have been influenced by megachurches abroad. They have been determined to make the church bigger and stronger, regarding a megachurch as the ideal."

But over the years, many experiences have changed his mind. “We must seriously consider our actual situation, which is completely different from that of megachurches.” Therefore, “the pastors of Chinese churches must seriously consider their own situation and make careful choices. They cannot completely copy the practices of megachurches.”

Out of the myth of megachurch, apart from the change of the model, the deeper change is that of the concept: compared with the previous emphasis on superficial scale, number, and efficiency, it has begun to emphasize the essence of the church and the growth of Christian life.

2. Re-emphasis and longing for revival

Against the background of losing believers after the pandemic, many churches and pastors have called for revival, especially the Asbury Revival that took place in the United States in February 2023, which further stimulated the desire of pastors in China for the same. Many pastors in China, especially young and middle-aged pastors with a spiritual background, kept concerned about revival, preached and appealed about it in various places.

These thoughts and discussions include: What is the real revival? What are the manifestations of revival? How can we usher in a revival? What are the basic elements of revival? There are also many pastors calling for: after the pandemic, the on-site gathering has gradually resumed, but what needs to be restored more than the external recovery is our inner longing, enthusiasm, and expectation for revival.

3. Diversified exploration of church models.

While walking out of the myth of megachurch, pastors have made diversified explorations of church development models. Although shortly after the pandemic was over, some pastors hesitated whether to return to the former large meetings or continue to use the small groups mode. Most churches still affirmed the latter.

Although quite a few pastors gave up after the pandemic due to the loss of believers and the environment, there are still many aspiring pastors who have been making great efforts to explore the further transformation of the church in China and influence the gradual transformation of the other pastors. New growth modes have been explored to consider the model in the apostolic erasmall home churchesmissional churches, and the gospel ecosystem.

A theologian believes that, unlike the transformation of the church in China in the past 20 years, it is necessary to continue to explore the further transformation of the church in China today. He regards it mainly in three aspects: from the construction of the church system (pastors-centered) to the establishment of Christian daily life; from entering mainstream culture to the implementation of the gospel plus, that is, the connection between the gospel and culture and society; from the church that sends specific clergy to the mission-oriented or community-oriented church where everyone is sent as a missionary.

Although the mode of exploration is diversified, different experimenters have a common understanding that small groups and discipleship training are the two most important elements for the healthy development of a church in the next decade.

4. Attention to the family

In pastoral care, more churches in China began to attach importance to families. Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the primary focus of most churches was on numerical expansion, offerings, and ministry-oriented revival. However, in the aftermath of the pandemic, numerous pastors engaged in introspection and came to the realization that the well-being and progress of the church hinged upon fine-tuned ministry, particularly in the context of individual families. "Pastoring the church lies in the ministry for the family" was a summary of a pastor's philosophy for his ministry and also the exhibition of many pastors' new practices. 

Because whether it is a newcomer to the church, an ordinary believer, or a group of teaching and pastoral workers, there is actually a common need: the family. On the one hand, there are many families on the verge of breaking up at present, and the marital problems inside and outside the family are more serious, so looking after families is helpful to help new people and ordinary believers. Meanwhile, the biggest pain point for a majority of pastoral workers is family and parenting. How to promote harmony between husband and wife and parent-child relationships is also a great challenge for them.

5. “Living” models

“Living” models are also a new trend. On the one hand, how believers live their faith is one of the biggest demands of Christians at present, so courses in the workplace, family, and interpersonal relationships have become popular. At the same time, this has become a new key point of evangelism. Many pastors find that it is more important to live the faith, that is, to embody the faith in life, the workplace, and the family, than the traditional way of oral transmission and leaflet spreading. More and more pastors say that real life can convince a person more. How to express faith is not only based on religious ceremonies and forms but also on faith in the church. How to live the gospel in daily life is more important.

6. New mission areas: the workplace and community

China has been in the process of rapid urbanization for more than ten years. Statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics show that the proportion of urban population in the national population (urbanization rate) is 65.22%. In cities, the most important elements include the working population and the community population. Therefore, the two also began a new focus and direction for pastoral areas.

How to feed the people in the workplace and help them live their faith and witness in the workplace is the focus of urban church pastors. However, it is more difficult for the church to raise the working group at present. Firstly, most pastors have limited working experience and professionalism. The second reason is that there are not many successful Christians in the workplace. A millennial doctor-born western city pastor shared that he was “young and had no work experience” in ministry, which made him lacking in pastoring believers. “At times, believers approach me with work-related challenges and dilemmas. During such moments, it is a formidable task for me to dispense constructive counsel.”

Paying attention to community construction is a current trend in society, and more and more church people and individual Christians see that some pastors have found that the current positioning of churches in developed countries such as Europe, the United States, and South Korea is more of a concept of community, which may be the trend for our next means of ministry, so they have begun to experiment and explore. A pastor realized that the West positioned the church to be more of "community church" with social development. 

7. Strengthening "business as mission" concept

Three years after the pandemic, many churches are facing an economic crisis because of reduced offerings. Some pastors endure in poverty, and some leave the church for jobs. For example, there used to be a famous pastor who chose a secular job to support his family. These are relatively healthy ways. The worry is that some pastors fall into different forms of pyramid schemes in order to make a living and even lead their followers into various commercial traps. Some pastors have observed that some pastors have lost a substantial amount of money in recent years, such as by making money by direct selling, pyramid selling, fund-raising and foreign exchange fraud, and selling after preaching or exaggerating the effect of the products they sell in the name of God, which has caused many co-workers and churches to suffer great losses.

Fundamentalism and dualism between the holy and the secular have had a significant impact on the church in China as a whole. The concept of “the poorer the church is, the more spiritual it is” is popular, and there are often many unhealthy understandings about business and management. More and more pastors began to change their minds and think that the church should have financial independence.

Some active churches and pastors have seen that the church needs to raise the awareness of business as mission, and a few have begun to cautiously try various feasible business models to promote the long-term solution of economic problems. For example, businessmen who have experienced the upsurge of industrial and commercial fellowship believe that it is unhealthy to call them missionaries as soon as they believe in the Lord, and their professional identity needs to be respected and herded on this basis, and their offerings can help the church. There are also church leaders who encourage pastors and believers to do small business, buy groups to save on the cost of living, and run some enterprises or industries. However, despite these initiatives, only a handful of mature and viable attempts are currently emerging.

8. Increased demand for localization

A few decades ago, the development of churches in China may have lacked money, but later it was said that the development of churches in China lacked not money but training resources. At present, more and more pastors find that the training resources are no longer lacking, and the training courses for all kinds of newcomers, disciples, co-workers, and group leaders, as well as the courses and resources for singles, marriage, and parenthood, are gradually enriched and diversified.

However, pastors find that Chinese churches keep learning various internationally popular pastoral and group courses, each of which is taken as a movement or trend. Every two or three years, a new wave of movement or trend emerges, and the pastoral staff fall into a strange circle of repeatedly learning new courses and constantly following various new movements and trends. Meanwhile, more and more mature local pastors have found that not all kinds of teaching materials or resources for discipleship training and group ministry introduced from abroad can be directly applied to China. The key is how to apply the teaching materials in the Chinese context, and some pastors have started to make their own materials for small groups or localized teaching materials.

9. The obvious trend of "atomization" of believers

After the pandemic, one point of the present situation in Christianity is that believers tend to be atomized. The problems of the general environment have directly brought about greater economic pressure on churches, and some are unable to bear the cost of worship meetings and other Christian activities. The direct result of the reduction of these sacred activities is that believers’ commitment to the church is reduced. On the one hand, it also shows how attractive traditional churches are to the younger generation. As a result, more and more believers began to dissociate themselves from the church.

At the same time, due to the loss of some pastors’ co-workers due to economic and other reasons and because it is difficult for traditional churches to provide jobs for laymen, some of these groups began to find jobs again or do individual business in society, and some of them had feelings and pursuits to establish various non-church institutions and ministries. For example, many laymen do psychological counseling, family education, marriage counseling, and other enterprises or institutions in a purely commercial way to help meet the needs of the social crowd.

10. The emphasis of the kingdom of God, community and gospel ecosystem

From 2010 to 2015, urban churches in China put more emphasis on the concepts of vision and membership and paid more attention to the institutionalization of individual churches and denominations. But now, the city church has gradually stepped out of institutionalization, emphasizing new concepts: the kingdom of God, community, and gospel ecology.

The pandemic and the environment itself have completely changed the pattern of getting along with each other in the past and changed the core issues that everyone cares about. The discovery is how unnecessary it was to argue among churches because in the past, when resources were abundant, a clear line was drawn for resource allocation, various doctrinal arguments, institutional establishment, etc. Now, when resources are scarce, the fragmented border consciousness will make individual churches isolated and helpless, leading to the church finding that differences are not so important and need more communication and unity.

Emphasizing the gospel ecosystem is the embodiment of this trend, thinking that it is not only about the growth of one’s own church but also how churches with different backgrounds and various ministries can focus on the kingdom of God and create a healthy church ecosystem within their own region and culture. The concept of community is a correction to the trend of atomization of individual Christians after the pandemic and the emphasis of the organized church on belonging, emphasizing the common community life of believers, integrating faith into the family and life of each believer, and letting seekers see what the life of Christians is like in the process of dealing with the world through relationships, life, and openness.

After talking about the ten trends in Chinese Christianity after the pandemic, we should not neglect the difficulties and crises that the churches in China are facing are more serious: how to guide the Gen Z, how to preserve the independence of churches and businesses, and how to develop new talents. 

- Translated by Charlie Li

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